Last week I made a plea for a reasonable reaction on a local level to DFO finally announcing a new halibut allocation policy. The commercial advocacy group, the Pacific Halibut Management Association (PHMA), reacted to the announcement by accusing the government of caving in to lobbying at the expense of responsible fisheries management. PHMA suggests that DFO can strictly monitor the small commercial fleet but cannot monitor the thousands of recreational anglers to the same exacting standard – which is simply untrue, and sows misinformation that drives tension between sectors.
In fact, since the commercial sector is audited on only a portion of their catch records, it’s likely that both sectors report in a comparable fashion. As the Sport Fishing Institute of BC (SFI) pointed out in a press release last week, “for the past five years, DFO has placed a very high level of confidence in the quality of the recreational fishery’s catch data… so much so that they have been able to use it to impose in-season management measures contrary to the wording of the original 2003 halibut allocation policy.” The specific commitment of the 2003 policy was that “there will be no closure of the sport fishery in-season.”
But the thing that really makes this issue divisive is the very inability of the federal government to deal with this issue. DFO announced the new policy with the promise that it would provide stability and greater certainty, when in fact stability was further eroded and certainty was eliminated for the recreational sector. That should be obvious even in the way the new policy allows for the perpetuation of the falsehood that this issue is about conservation, when the true issue is ownership of the resource.
While we naively assume that fish are a shared resource, the property of all Canadians, DFO has once again demonstrated that they continue to move toward a model that privatizes the majority of the resource. Additional evidence of this is a repeat of the experimental licence, permitting recreational anglers to purchase commercial quota, which proved to be such a dismal failure in 2011.
“There is much talk by DFO of looking ahead for the future of the commercial fisheries in Canada to ensure that they remain economically prosperous, stable and certain,” says Owen Bird, Executive Director of the SFI. “Yet when it comes to the recreation sector this doesn’t seem to be considered at all, as evidenced by their simple response to an admittedly complex issue. This is all in spite of the abundance of evidence of the value of recreational fishing not only in BC but across the nation. DFO, in recent implementation plans, described that recreational fishing accounts for 7.5 billion of 12 billion of national economic activity annually, yet consideration given the two sectors is obviously and completely disparate.”
The great flaw in DFO’s approach is that they assume that commercial and recreational sectors have the same needs. That’s not the case. The commercial sector is concerned for the fish in hand, for sale at market and for their 436 licence holders. In the recreational sector, where none of the 300,000 recreational anglers are assured access, it’s now lack of certain opportunity and expectations that will drive the dreaded “gold rush” mentality early in the season and make it difficult for the sport sector to remain economically sustainable.
“What’s required is an objective review of the allocation policy that legitimately considers the unique needs of each sector, “ Owen says. “It’s not an easy task, but it’s ‘doable’ and necessary – especially considering the implications for other fisheries down the line. The current model does not work especially well for any sector, particularly if measured against the underlying interest to protect and encourage economic opportunity, stability, certainty and sustainability for all sectors and not just for one.”
Indeed, this latest policy leaves us in the exact position we were in a year ago –in critical need of an objective review of the whole allocation issue.